When night creeps o’er the spired town
The old man takes the candles down.
He lights the tapers, sharpens pen,
Pours ink into the well again,
Puts on a tattered dressing gown.
The room is bare, the fire cold;
The chamber walls are gray with mold.
And yet he does not see the room—
Its poverty, its sterile gloom,
Its stacks of folios unsold.
Sometimes he hums, sometimes he sings,
Sometimes across the room he springs
To pound out half-tuned chords upon
The only instrument he owns:
A clavier with broken strings.
He has a well-trained, fine-tuned ear,
And yet he does not seem to hear
Those jarring chords so out of tune
They might well make the tone-deaf swoon!
But mark his face—Is that a tear?
Back to the table, to his pen,
The old man bends to write again.
Lines, notes and symbols fill the page...
Is he possessed by some strange rage?
Or does he see the heavens rend?
Can he, a mortal, look just there
Near waning fire and well-worn chair
And hear and see something beyond?
One chord, perhaps, of ancient song
That clothed with light a world once bare?
One glimpse, perhaps, is all he needs.
On fertile soil one tiny seed
Sprouts and takes root upon that night—
And like a tree of epic height,
Becomes a mighty symphony.
Time steals the glories of the town;
War tears its mighty spires down.
All the composer knew is changed,
Destroyed, restored, or rearranged,
While he lies sleeping ‘neath the ground.
Yet what he wrote remains and thrives—
Performed and copied and transcribed.
And sometimes one who plays or hears
Pauses a moment, glimpsing there
That transcendence gave it life.
The room is plain and cold and square,
Utilitarian, and bare,
With cinder block walls, concrete floors,
Glazed-over windows, metal doors,
And vents that blow out stale, chill air.
Small children file into the room;
Some push, and shove, and elbow, too.
They crowd together on the floor
Cross-legged, to make room for more:
Grades three and four; grades one and two.
An orchestra has come, and brings
Brass and woodwinds, percussion, strings.
A common thing; hardly unique;
Two schools today, four more next week—
But to small ears, an unknown thing.
Some wiggle, whisper, fall asleep;
Some clap or tap to keep the beat.
But one small boy is very still
And why he is, he cannot tell—
His thoughts are curious, strange, and deep.
He’s never heard these sounds before
And yet, and yet, the concrete floor
The walls, the ceiling, the kids that shove—
They all seem somehow to dissolve
And melt into the music’s core.
He cannot put it into words
But hears what the composer heard.
And understands it? Well, a bit.
Enough that he will not forget.
Someday it will not seem absurd.
But that is someday; and just now
He looks up and whispers, “Wow...”
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